Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bishop Maxim and Pilgrims Visit Panorama

On Saturday evening, Bishop Maxim, Fr. Blasko, a priest in his Serbian diocese of Western America, and a group of eight pilgrims arrived in Thessaloniki after spending the first part of their pilgrimage in Constantinople.

On Sunday morning, thanks to the blessing of Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki, Bishop Maxim presided over a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at our parish here in Panorama. At the end of the service, somewhat to my surprise, he read two prayers for me: one to become a pneumatikos (spiritual father/confessor) and the second to be elevated to the office of Oikonomos and awarded the accompanying epigonation, or thigh shield.

There are differing theological opinions on the issue of priests hearing confession, but in the Byzantine tradition being a confessor is not automatically conferred with ordination to the priesthood, but is rather a separate charisma (spiritual gift) with a special prayer read by the bishop conferring and confirming the charisma. In Greece, many priests never become confessors. It is usually done on the recommendation of the priest's spiritual father a few years after ordination to the priesthood.

The office of Oikonomos (Economos) is another prayer read by the bishop and is signified by the awarding of the epigonation or thigh shield. It is often connected with hearing confession, to the point that some say the epigonation symbolizes the keys to the Kingdom that were given to St. Peter. As Bishop Maxim noted in his address at the end of the Liturgy, when the Orthodox speak of "symbolism" it means that it "iconizes" (serves as an icon of), refers to, and participates in reality, i.e. the eschatological reality of the coming Kingdom of God.

The word "Oikonomos" means "steward," as in "stewards of the mysteries of God" and the prayer refers to the appropriate management or stewardship of the Church's money and resources.

Above, Bishop Maxim is smiling at the babies as they come up for antidoron.

After the Liturgy, we went to a nearby cafe for a coffee before taking the pilgrims to see a couple things in Thessaloniki. Above, you can see Bishop Maxim speaking with Prof. Dimitris Tselingidis, a professor of Dogmatic Theology here at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and a parishioner here in Panorama.

The group really only had time for two stops -- one, of course, to St. Demetrios, and the second to the Serbian War Memorial, which commemorates the 8000 Serbs who gave their lives defending Orthodox Greece in World War I. In these photos, you can see an old Serbian soldier, the cemetery's guard, giving a talk about the cemetery. We did a memorial service in the chapel in the cemetery before the group headed out to Ouranoupolis, from where the men (and I) would depart for Mt. Athos the next day. More on that coming.

To see the group's photos of the early part of their trip, including their time in Thessaloniki, click here.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Babies' Second Birthday

Last Saturday, the babies celebrated their second birthday. We had a small get-together in the evening, with a BBQ, cake, and ice cream to celebrate. Above you can see the babies blowing out their candles. Well, actually here it seems that Paul is trying to help Benjamin blow out his.

Here they dig into their individual cakes/tarts after the singing of "Happy Birthday."

Benjamin's godparents, James and Ann, gave the babies squirt bottles, since they love going next door and playing with theirs. Naturally, a big squirt gun fight broke out. The babies went around spraying everyone. Here, our friend Justin is about to get his revenge on his son Michael, who is also two. The babies are playing with the water in the background.

The babies' main present was this disc swing from Ikea, which Pelagia hung on the balcony.

Our landlady, Kyria Maria, came down and brought homemade stuffed grape leaves (dolmadakia). Here she and Sophie watch as the babies play under the table.

On Sunday afternoon, we went on an outing with Michael Tishel and all his guests from Santa Rosa to Elder Paisios' tomb at the women's monastery in Souroti. Here is a photo of Paul and me sitting just outside the church. The elder's grave is in the background to the right.

Our friends George and Kalliopi from Panorama (who have 8 kids) were at the monastery for Vespers, so they helped out with the babies. Benjamin even sat with Kalliopi for all of Vespers. Afterwards, they stuffed themselves with Turkish delight and played in the water fountain.

On the way home, we stopped at the mall so that our guests could see what a mall looks like that is on land owned by the Ecumenical Patriarchate -- it has a functioning church right in the middle of its courtyard. Here the babies are playing on the ramp outside the church after we went in and lit candles.

For more photos from the weekend, click here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tour Around Mt. Athos with the Babies

Last week, our friend Michael Tishel had some visitors from Holy Dormition Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Santa Rosa, CA. While he took the men to Mt. Athos, we took the two women for the boat tour around Mt. Athos. This was also the first time for Pelagia, after five years, and of course the first time for the babies. In fact, it was probably the babies' biggest trip yet, with a 2-hour car ride each way and a 3-hour boat ride. The highlight for the babies was probably the fact that dolphins came and swam right alongside the boat. I didn't get a very good photo of them close-up, but here you can one splashing in the water as Pelagia and Phoebe look on. The babies love dolphins and whales right now.

The boat tour around Mt. Athos must stay 500 meters off the shore of the autonomous monastic republic. But you can still see 8 of the 20 ruling monasteries in only a 3-hour boat ride. The main company runs this tour twice daily. We took the first one, leaving at 10:30 AM, which is probably a bit cooler than the afternoon one. Above, Pelagia and Benjamin look at Grigoriou Monastery.

Above, Paul and Phoebe look at Simonopetra Monastery perched up on the hill.

Here's Paul hanging out at the aft of the ship. The babies spent a lot of time just walking around the boat with their backpacks on, which was handy since the backpacks have little leashes on them. They also liked throwing bread and pretzels to the birds that fly after the ships.

Our guests from California were staying at Fr. Symeon's women's monastery in Panorama, and the nuns there had graciously packed us a lunch. So when we got back, we sat on the beach in Ouranoupolis (which, besides being the main port for Mt. Athos, is also a popular beach resort town) and at lunch. The babies, of course, also got a chance to play in the water. Above, Popadija Christina walks with Paul and Phoebe on the beach.

Here, she's walking down to the water with Benjamin (on his little bike) from the shady spot we found.

Here are the three playing with the rocks in the water.

Here, I managed to snap a photo with the rock in mid-air. Paul especially liked making big splashes.

It wasn't long before the babies got naked, their favorite state. Above, Paul is climbing along the rocks. Below, Phoebe doing the same.

Finally, we got them dressed and ready to go. Paul discovered the pockets in his new shorts and seemed to like them.

On the way home, we stopped at the Monastery of St. Anastasia the Deliverer from Potions, which dates to 888 AD. We caught a bit of Vespers before the babies wandered just outside the entrance and found where the monks keep their animals--two deer and a goat. We spent a long time feeding them.

The babies freshened up in the mountain spring fountain outside the monastery before we headed home.

For more photos from the outing, click here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

First Swim of the Summer

Last week, temperatures peaked in the high 80s, so we decided to take the babies for their first swim of the summer. There were a decent number of people on the beach, mainly foreigners probably taking advantage of reduced prices. Greeks generally will only swim in July and August, but we foreigners, used to cold temperatures, are unfazed. Above, you can see the pit the babies dug.

One of their favorite games is picking up rocks and tossing them to make a splash.

Paul is the most adventurous in the water, and in general. Here he is walking around.

Phoebe helped these girls pick up their ball when it went astray and would go and hand it back to them. They thought she was pretty cute.

Phoebe and Benjamin.

A sandy Phoebe.

For a few more photos, click here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Two weeks ago, our friend George, another American studying here in Thessaloniki, took the babies and me to a nice, quiet little park in the city with fish and turtles.

The babies LOVED the turtles. Here Paul was trying to get this one to come out of his shell and play with him.

Phoebe wanted to give it a leaf.

George bought the babies some hot dogs, but all they wanted to do was feed them to the turtles. Here's Paul trying to entice the turtle with a hot dog.

Above, George is pointing to another turtle as Paul and Benjamin look on eagerly.